Lance Williams

College basketball doesn’t need four games at once

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I love when Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis starts coming up with ideas, especially when it comes to college hoops.

Generally speaking, the sport is better off when he gets to brainstorming.

He got the Spartans out to Germany to take on UConn this season. He’s the brainchild behind the 16 team supertournament being discussed for the 2017 season. He came up with the idea of playing a basketball game on an aircraft carrier, and while that looked pretty dumb in hindsight this year with all three games being cancelled or postponed, last year’s inaugural game would have been legendary and memorable had we let it be.

His newest idea, as illustrated by Raphielle Johnson here, is a bit too much. Hollis wants to play four games, simultaneously, inside the Jerry Dome in Dallas. Seriously. He wants to set up four courts, bring in eight teams, and have them tip off every 15 minutes.

It’s an AAU tournament.

Nevermind the fact that whistles on court one will make players stop on court two. Forget that a substitution buzzer on court three could confuse a player on court four who thought he still had five seconds left on the shot clock. Let’s ignore the fact that we’re turning a major college basketball event into the setting of an AAU tournament at the same time that the media establishment complains about AAU basketball having too much influence on today’s game.

The most important thing to note, however, is that college basketball’s season-opening is as good as any sport this side of the NFL. Look at what we had this year: Kentucky and Maryland opening up the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in front of Jay-Z a couple of hours after Michigan State and UConn tipped off on a military base in Germany. At the same time, there would have been three marquee matchups on national television between tournament teams had we realized earlier that playing basketball games outside in November was not a good idea.

That was just the start. Three days later, Marathon Madness went into full effect, with 24 straight hours of hoops being capped off with the Champions Classic, which featured Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State all squaring off. When that ended, we had a day to catch our breath before the preseason tournament swung into full gear. For the next ten days, you were able to find meaningful college basketball games on national networks from noon until well past midnight.

You want to argue that the Maui Invitational was watered down this year and I won’t argue with you, but you can’t tell me that this shot didn’t get you excited for the season to come. The DirecTV Classic might have been a bust this year, but I think that the Legends Classic — complete with UCLA’s collapse and the overtime thriller between Indiana and Georgetown — made up for it. You might not have paid attention to the Old Spice Classic, but I guarantee you knew all about the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis.

And don’t forget about the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

If Hollis wants to pack four games into one day in one stadium, I’m all for it. If he wants to set up courts at either end of the Jerry Dome so that the instant we get back from the commercial break after the final buzzer sounds in one game we can tip off the next, I’m down for that as well.

The more attention that can be driven to college hoops in November, the better. But we don’t need to dilute the product on the floor just to get some publicity when there is already plenty of attention being paid to the good, quality basketball being played at the beginning of the year.

What’s killing college basketball’s regular season isn’t necessarily a lack of good games or marquee matchups or passionate fans.

It’s that the talent continually flees to the NBA leaving a mediocre product on the floor. This issue was helped when coaches were allowed contact with their teams in the summer, meaning that early season games weren’t as sloppy as in year’s past.

But if Mark Hollis truly wants to make the game better and more popular, he’ll figure out a way for us to avoid nationally televised games that end 37-36 or 46-38 instead of worrying about how we can further make college hoops strictly a source of entertainment rather than a sporting event.

No. 14 West Virginia takes care of No. 15 Baylor

West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Saturday, Feb, 6, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
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Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.

They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.

The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.

They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.

West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
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Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.